MADRID: Spain's prime minister said on Sunday (Mar 22) he would ask parliament to extend a state of emergency until Apr 11 to try to curb the spread of coronavirus after the country recorded 394 new deaths from the disease.
A nationwide 15-day state of emergency was first announced on Mar 14 and it bars people in the nation of around 46 million people from leaving home except for essential outings like buying food or seeking medical care.
Pedro Sanchez said his cabinet would on Tuesday approve the request to extend the state of emergency for another 15 days, adding he was confident that the assembly would approve it.
"I know it is a drastic measure ... but experts agree that it is an effective measure in the fight against coronavirus," he told a news conference after holding talks via video conference with the heads of Spain's regional governments.
"We hope that with this measure, which is so drastic, so dramatic, so hard, which without a doubt has consequences on our families, we can bend the (growth) curb of coronavirus."
The announcement comes after Spain reported 394 new deaths caused by the pandemic, raising to 1,720 the official death toll in Europe's worst-hit country after Italy, a 30 per cent increase over the previous day.
The number of confirmed cases of the disease rose by 3,646, or 14.6 per cent, to 28,572, with Sanchez warning the outbreak would continue to expand in the coming days.
"We have yet to receive the impact of the strongest, most damaging wave, which will test our material and moral capacities to the limit, as well as our spirit as a society," he said during a televised address late on Saturday.
The rise in infections is bringing Spain's health care system to the brink of collapse, especially in the regions of Madrid and Barcelona which account for half of all infections of COVID-19.
"There will be stress and a problem in some places. The pressure on the system will be high," the health ministry's emergencies coordinator, Fernando Simon, said.
"This collapse which is being talked about could happen in some places but it will not be generalised."
Healthcare workers have for days complained that they are running short of equipment, such as masks.
The pandemic claimed the first life of a health care worker in Spain last week, that of a 52-year-old nurse in the northern Basque Country.
Doctors, nurses and other health care workers accounted for over 10 per cent of all confirmed cases of coronavirus, Simon said.
"This is a significant problem for our health care system," he told a news conference.
To ease pressure on hospitals in the Madrid region, soldiers helped move patients over the weekend to a makeshift field hospital set up at a conference centre in the Spanish capital.
The facility will be fitted with 5,500 hospital beds, which would make it the biggest such coronavirus field hospital in Europe.
About 1,300 hospitals beds have so far been set up at the facility and officials plan to move over 300 patients there this weekend, the director of the field hospital, Antonio Zapatero, said in an interview with daily newspaper El Mundo.
A photo taken before the first patients arrived showed rows of empty beds covered in white sheets laid out on the concrete floor of the conference centre.
The Spanish government said on Saturday it would distribute another 500,000 masks to healthcare workers, and 800,000 for patients.
It also said it had also bought more than 640,000 coronavirus tests.
Authorities have called up 52,000 extra workers to help the country's health service as it struggles to contain the virus, including 14,000 retired doctors and nurses.
Around 2,850 soldiers have been mobilised to disinfect airports and ports and other tasks in the fight against the virus.